Senators Introduce “Kill Switch” Legislation to Combat Smartphone Theft

The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act would make stolen cell phones useless to thieves by allowing owners to remotely lock and wipe their phones.

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Following a recent bill proposed in California and a months-long effort to combat cell phone theft, the United State Senate yesterday saw the introduction of legislation which would require smartphone manufacturers to install a “kill switch” on handsets sold in the US. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) brought forth the proposal in hopes that giving users the ability to delete personal information and lock a smartphone after it has been stolen would stem a rising tide of mobile phone thefts.

According to the FCC, nearly one third of all robberies in the US involve a cell phone, as criminals target smartphones in particular for both their lucrative resale value and the potential for personal information such as bank accounts and other finances to be stored on the device.

An estimated 1.6 million Americans were the victims of phone-theft in 2012, making it the most frequent property crime in the country as other forms of theft have actually begun to fall. While some mobile devices already have the ability to be remotely locked by the owner, there are still many that do not.

“Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private, protect their identity and finances, and render the phone inoperable to the thieves.”

The bill has already drawn support from a number of politicians and organizations, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Consumers Union, and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who co-chairs the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative which launched eight months ago.

“The Secure Our Smartphone Initiative has been challenging carriers and manufacturers to install technology to end the epidemic of violent smartphone thefts plaguing our communities,” said Schneiderman. “I applaud Senator Klobuchar for taking the lead in introducing federal legislation that would require the industry to stop dragging its feet and join us in protecting consumers. Senator Klobuchar’s bold action to change the way the smartphone industry does business will help make our communities safer and help save lives.”

If passed, the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act would force manufacturers to equip every smartphone with a free “kill switch” to render the phone permanently useless to anyone other than the owner, and would prevent it from being reactivated on another network by any potential thief.

[Source: Senator Klobuchar, Attorney General Schneiderman